Injured Giffords Trumps Healthy McCain

Wow. At this point in the mortgage-mod-not-so-merry-go-round process, it’s not easy to surprise me. Or impress me.

But today … wow. I got a call from one of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ staff members updating me on her communication with Wells Fargo regarding the state of my mortgage modification.

I wrote to the congresswoman back in September 2010, asking for help with what had become a six-month fiasco of misinformation, disinformation and, of course, the endless paper shuffle. (I also wrote to my senator, John McCain and the heads of the Senate and House committees that oversee the banking industry; they all blew me off.)

It was so great to hear Amanda’s voice today, not because of what she might do for me but because I have been worried about her since the shootings. Just two days before that horrific day, we had finally connected to discuss paperwork I had been sending for a couple of months. I was so impressed to learn that Giffords has a staffer dedicated to helping her constituents specifically with mortgage and foreclosure issues.

I was even more impressed that Amanda, in order to really understand the problems with the mortgage modification process, participated in the process with some consitituents. For two months, she made the calls, waited in the phone queues and tried in vain to get information from banks regarding people’s home loans. She was, inevitably, appalled by what she experienced.

I have thought of Amanda a number of times over the past weeks. The media didn’t mention the names of other Giffords staffers who were present at the Tucson event where the shootings happened, so I had no idea whether she had been there and how she was. It’s a strange kind of connection – having had one meaningful conversation with someone and then a few days later hearing that person had possibly been in a life-threatening situation. You don’t know the person well enough to call and inquire. But you wonder and worry and hope for the best.

I’m just so impressed that Giffords’ staff is carrying on, doing their work in the wake of extreme pressures and facing an uncertain future. My grateful thanks to them. And ongoing good wishes to Gabby who, from her Houston hospital bed, turns out to be a more effective advocate for Arizonans fighting to keep their homes than is a presumably healthy John McCain. Wow.

Hurry home Gabby. Arizona misses you and needs you on our side!

What Kind of Organization Keeps Contact Info. Secret?

When did it become common practice for companies to refuse to provide contact information to clients, prospective clients or just about anyone who asks for it? I guess I didn’t get that memo. What’s the big secret?

In my professional experience, when someone calls (or, these days, emails) a company asking for contact information either for the company in general or for a specific person or department, the common practice is to provide that information. Simple. No-brainer.

I have no idea how many times in many different jobs I called to ask for a mailing address, a physical address, the formal title of a person I had previously talked to, the name of a person in a specific position or the name of the best person to contact regarding a specific issue or piece of information. I can’t recall a single instance when the person I spoke to, generally a polite and efficient receptionist, failed to simply provide the requested information. Basic, every-day business practice.

I have also been that person answering the phone and providing whatever information was requested. In the old days (and probably still at small companies) there was always some kind of paper list near the phone with names, titles and phone extensions. Now, technology makes possible a web-based, searchable database so employees at even the largest corporations can easily locate and contact any person, department or division.

So why is it that I have spent hours and hours trying to locate contact information at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and Freddie Mac? Why does it seem like they are loathe to provide names, phone numbers or addresses where their clients can contact the people who can answer their questions and provide basic services?

During the past seven months dealing with WFHM, I have been shuffled along among eight different people who in some way or another were supposed to be my permanent contact through the end of my mortgage modification review. (That’s after just having to speak to random customer-service people for nearly three months.) The problem is, many of the people who have passed me along to someone else have failed/refused to provide me with a way to directly get in touch with the next person in line.

In one instance, it took 14 phone calls over 12 days before I got to speak to the person who was supposed to help complete my modification review.

And all this time, the customer-service queue people at Wells Fargo generally claimed not to have access to the contact information for all those people who were supposed to be committed to helping their customers (me!) avoid foreclosure. Seriously?! I’m supposed to believe that a big, modern company like Wells Fargo doesn’t have any way for employees to get in contact with each other or to put clients in touch with the departments and personnel providing the services they need? I did finally get one rep. to confirm for me that, of course, Wells Fargo did have a company directory and that, of course, she did have access to it. She just wasn’t allowed to give me the phone number of the person I was supposed to be dealing with. I would just have to wait until that person got around to contacting me.

What?!! Don’t call us; we’ll call you? While the clock is ticking and I’m sliding down the slope into default?

Now I’m having the same trouble with Freddie Mac, the actual owner of my mortgage loan. I emailed borrower_outreach@freddiemac.com to ask for the name and mailing address of the person in charge of servicer compliance for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). First, they ignored me. I kept emailing. Then I got a message not to email that address anymore because they needed to “escalate this case to a higher department here at Freddie Mac to research.” Research?! I asked for a name and mailing address. What is there to research?

I emailed the new address I was given, FreddieMacBorrowerHelp@freddiemac.com, and again politely requested the name and mailing address. After sending that two more times, I got the following:
As the compliance administrator for Making Home Affordable, we do have an email address you can use to register perceived violations to the MHA program; however, we would also like the opportunity to explore your concern before the complaint is registered.

If you would like to register an alleged violation, please report it to mha_compliance@mhacompliance.com. Please note that the purpose of this email address is for consumers to voice their concerns. The email address is not a communication tool, so you will not receive any response back or follow-up to your registered complaint.

So, in other words, they won’t read what you write and they won’t take any action, but if you want to waste your time sending the email, go right ahead?!

I’m asking for a name and address! If I had wanted to submit my complaint via email, I would have done that to the first address I had. I emailed back and said, first, that there are way too many pages for it to be practical to email. And second, that I preferred to send it via regular mail so I would have delivery confirmation as it is my experience that agencies involved in mortgage lending have an unfortunate tendency to misplace paperwork.

Why the secrecy? I can only think of two types of organizations that need to closely guard the identities and whereabouts of their employees. The first are international spy rings, the likes of which are described in the works of authors like Robert Ludlum and John LeCarré. I believe the idea there is that no-one knows the identities of many other agents so if one person is captured and tortured by the enemy he can’t compromise the others.

The other type of entity I can think of that thrives on such secrecy is criminal organizations. Controlling the flow of information and contact between “employees” means if someone gets arrested, he can’t give away crucial details about “business” deals or point the finger at many of his fellow criminals.

I can’t say I buy Wells Fargo as a front for an international spy operation or imagine CEO John Stumpf running agents, setting up information drops or donning disguises to infiltrate terrorist cells.

I have to say it’s much easier for me to imagine Wells and the other big corporations financial services industry as elements of a global crime syndicate.

How about you. Do you see John Stumpf as a cloak-and-dagger spymaster? Or the godfather of his corporate “family?”

Foreclosure Fraud Break-ins Cause Concern

I don’t think anyone who is facing foreclosure can rest very easy after reading the stories about people’s homes being broken into and their possessions being hauled away without their permission or even knowledge. As far as I know, Wells Fargo has not yet started the foreclosure process on my home (though I realize they might inadvertently neglect to notify me). Still, I have to admit that I think of this poor Florida woman whenever I hear a strange noise while I’m in the shower.

It’s hard to fathom how any of this is possible in this country where citizens supposedly are protected from illegal actions of individuals and corporations by the rule of law. What’s next, I wonder, and my mind starts conjuring up all kind of unpleasant images.

I grew up out in the boonies and, in my household, if we heard strange noises at night there was no calling 911 and hoping law enforcement would come. My mother would get her pistol, either from holster built into her custom-made purse or from its hiding place in the house and my stepfather would take one of the shotguns from the gun case.

So, I wonder, what happens when one of these bank-authorized break-in crews surprises someone who shoots first and asks questions later in his or her own home? The way our “justice” system seems to be working, I suspect the homeowner gets to go to jail and lose his house and the bank gets away with it all.

What happens when they break into a house with a good watchdog? If the dog bites the bank’s lackeys, does the homeowner get in trouble? Maybe because liability is an issue in my business, I got to thinking maybe someone should start offering a line of warning signs and liability releases to cover this rather unusual situation.

So, in between writing letters to Wells Fargo (that they invariably neglect to answer) I started thinking up what I might need to post on my door just in case the bank’s paid thugs come calling.

(See what I came up with in my next post.)

Warning to Wells Fargo’s Burglars

If Wells Fargo Home Mortgage sends its housebreakers to my home, I just want them to know what they might be in for:

WARNING!

These premises are protected by one menopausal woman,
two large German Shepherds, one toothless old cat
and one very cranky young cat.
Enter at your own risk!

(For liability purposes, all bank employees/agents, regardless whether or not they believe they are lawfully entering this home, must complete the attached release form prior to breaking in.)
___________________________________________

Release and Indemnification

I, _____________________________________, acknowledge that I am voluntarily participating in breaking into and entering a home I have no business entering at the instigation of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage or one of its subsidiary organizations.

I am aware that house pets protecting their territory and homeowners who have been repeatedly jerked around by their loan servicers are unpredictable and have been known on frequent occasions to bite, scratch, bark, snarl …
(Use the link above to read the rest.)

Bank Shills and Petty People, Shut Up!

Every time I read a tweet from someone rhapsodizing about how quick and easy her loan modification with XYZ bank was,  I  immediately think “Plant!” Not something green and growing, but someone shilling for that bank, telling a big fat lie to try to convince people that banks haven’t turned mortgage modification into a huge scam.

The other thing that gets my blood up – and makes me suspect more plants – is all the trash-talking going on out there, mostly in the comments section following news articles and blog entries about the foreclosure mess. “They shouldn’t have bought houses they couldn’t afford and now they deserve to lose them” seems to be the most common sentiment, followed by a bunch of holier-than-thou BS about how the banks are only following correct business priorities – making money as fast as they can. I suspect many of these commenters are probably bank employees involved in an insidious (and somewhat effective) scheme to blame borrowers for the economic crisis the banks caused. The rest are just really, really small people, smug in their little worlds where nothing unplanned or bad will ever happen to put them in financial difficulty. (Right!)

Nothing I could say would have any effect on the banks’ trained monkeys. But I got so tired of the narrow-minded blowhards that I formulated a response I posted to a number of publications’ comments sections (though several of the “moderated” ones oddly never let my comment through.) Here’s what I wrote:

Yes, some of the people who are losing their houses did make bad decisions and take on too much debt. I’ll guess both they and the chronic “flippers” have walked by now. Many of the people who are still trying to save their homes are having financial problems they didn’t cause and could not have forseen.

What about the 50-year-old father who got downsized out of his firm after the financial services industry tanked the economy and he can’t find a job because nobody wants to hire a middle-aged middle manager? What about the single mother whose savings were depleted because she had to care for a sick child or parent and then just when she was catching up she lost her second or third job due to the bad economy? What about the millions of small-business owners whose clientele just dried up because everyone else is struggling to make ends meet and cutting back on non-essentials. Are these the deadbeats you refer to with such disdain?

There are plenty of people out there who bought houses they could afford, who did the right thing and are simply caught up in a global economic mess they didn’t cause and they can’t fix.

If you’re not one of them – if you have your job and your health and you’re paying all your bills just fine – count your lucky stars and try to have a little compassion for those of us who are struggling, please.

A little honesty and a little humanity wouldn’t go amiss here.

Wells Fargo: You Did What We Asked and It Was Wrong

One of the biggest excuses the big mortgage servicers spout to explain why mortgage modification reviews take months or even years is that their borrowers fail to send the correct paperwork.

Never mind that the website for my mortgage servicer, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, does not provide anything so logical as a simple checklist of the forms and documents that homeowners seeking modifications under the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) must submit.

I heard a new version of the “you didn’t send the paperwork” excuse today. My latest contact at the WFHM president’s office tried to tell me that the review of my mortgage modification request took so long because I sent the documents one or two at a time.

WHAT?! That could be because Wells Fargo employees ASKED FOR THEM that way. I first sent what I thought was a complete initial packet of info. based on a list on the Making Home Affordable website. Then, I sent documents 12 more times. Always at the request of someone from WFHM.

One of the mailings totaled 52 sheets of paper, more than half of which were printed on both sides! Should I have sent that many documents every time one or two items were requested? That’s nuts. But, then so is this whole mortgage modification scam. I keep describing it to those lucky people not involved in it themselves as “The Keystone Kops Manage a Bank.”

Where’s the Loyalty, Corporate America?

Whatever happened to corporate loyalty? You know, that concept that companies work hard to keep clients happy because it’s so much more efficient to retain customers than to attract and land new ones.

In the not-so-distant past, it was fiscally more desirable for companies to actually provide service and give a #$*% whether their clients were happy. If you had been a loyal customer for many years, you earned some perks – you got some loyalty back. Now it seems like the only people who even get anything resembling competent, professional treatment from many corporations are those with mega-bucks.

Talked to a relative recently who has been paying premiums to the same insurance company for 20 years and has never had a single claim, never gotten so much as a dime of his own money back from the company. Now he needs the insurance and, you guessed it, the company is trying to weasel out of paying his claim. What is up with that?!

And what do the big banks think will happen to their “prospect” pool after they foreclose on millions of their customers (and the rest of us read about fraud and lies and even breaking-and-entering). Do the executives at Wells Fargo and Bank of America and Chase really think all those people will go on doing business with them?

Or, like me, will those millions move their money to local banks and credit unions. And advise their children and co-workers and even total strangers with whom they strike up random conversations to NEVER, EVER do business with a big bank?

How many children are there in this country right now whose first up-close-and-personal experience with a bank has been to have his home taken away from him. To know that his parents tried and tried to get help from the bank and all they got was the run-around and a bunch of lies and then the family was booted out of its home. Will those kids ever trust their future wealth to Wells Fargo? To B of A? Why would they?

Is it so cheap and easy to attract new customers these days that corporations don’t have to consider the marketing cost per new customer anymore? Is client retention so unimportant that it’s only mentioned in the puffed-up PR copy on websites and in annual reports?

I just don’t see how that can be a sustainable business model. I think John Stumpf and the rest of the big bank executives are doing the fiscal equivalent of shooting themselves in the foot when they make decisions based on the next year’s bloated bonus instead of the long-term viability of the organizations they steward.

What do you think?